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William STERNDALE Bennett (1816-1875)
Piano Concerto No.4 in F minor Op.19 (1838/39) [27:35]
Caprice in E major Op.22 (1838) [12:49]
Francis Edward Bache (1833-1858)
Piano Concerto in E major Op.18 (1851/1856) [24:42]
Howard Shelley (piano, conductor)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
rec. City Hall, Glasgow, 5-7 December 2006
The Romantic Piano Concerto – Volume 43
HYPERION CDA67595 [65:19]

Hyperion’s Romantic Piano Concerto series reaches volume forty-three with this release. It conjoins Sterndale Bennett’s Fourth Concerto with Bache’s previously unrecorded E major Concerto and adds – no small makeweight – the former composer’s Caprice in the same key.
All three works show imagination and craft, though there are measurable differences in levels in inspiration. For the record Sterndale Bennett’s Caprice is also available on Lyrita SRCD204 played by Malcolm Binns with the LPO under Lyrita stalwart Nicholas Braithwaite. The Concerto is on Unicorn Kanchana UKCD 2032 where Binns is joined this time by the Milton Keynes Chamber Orchestra and Hilary Davan Wetton. So whilst no new discographic ground is trod in the Sterndale Bennett stakes these two substantial and impressive works deserve repeated hearings, the more fully to appreciate their qualities.
High amongst those qualities are lyricism and caprice. The first movement is finely orchestrated and elegantly laid out for the soloist. The influences are Mendelssohnian but there is also the spectre, a benign one, of Weber. Shelley’s finely rounded tone and elegant purposefulness contrast fruitfully with Binns’s more acerbic and brittle approach. Shelley points the left hand stalling figures in this movement with considerable control. Similarly he brings the Barcarolle to witty life, the decorated filigree bringing from him an assured and romanticised generosity of spirit - seconded by the first class recording which ensures that detail is audible and without swamping the score in a wash of colour. Shelley’s rich chording here in the Barcarolle is a delight, and his capricious finale  - those perky runs – are another. The orchestral lines tend to be subservient in this movement but it enables one to concentrate on the pianist-protagonist in all his finery.
Talking of caprice, the E major Caprice is an enjoyable work as well, though its perky Mendelssohnisms could do with some lyrical contrast. Shelley plays and directs with adept eloquence, and makes a fine case for a slightly unwieldy and rather too ostentatiously extrovert a piece.
The Bache is a discographic first. It was completed shortly before the composer’s miserably early death. Though aspects of the orchestration may seem conventional there’s actually rather more going on than meets the ear at first hearing. The delightfully pirouetting solo lines – roulades of wit – and the minor key visitations act either as playful episodes or as intensifying agents. The movements actually run together though they are separately – and rightly - tracked in this recording. The central movement does indeed have great charm and also a rather ripe vocalised quality – he had been studying opera in 1856 and I think the impression clearly ran deep – whereas the finale has delightful Sullivan-like ebullience.
This is a finely programmed disc. Bache was a pupil of Sterndale Bennett’s and the juxtaposition of the two is thought provoking – what would Bache have written had he lived? – and of historical value. A splendid disc then all round.
Jonathan Woolf

see also reviews by Christopher Howell and John France

Hyperion Romantic Piano Concerto series page


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